The beginner's guide to BMX riding

You may remember it being called bicycle motocross, or just see it as freestyle stunt riding around a skate park.

Bicycle motocross was born in California in the early 1980s and, whilst a mainstay of the X games, it really became competitive on an international level and got the attention it deserved at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

Certainly the 2012 London Olympics brought home funding and enthusiasm for BMX racing of all forms in the UK. There are now race tracks all over the country and with a racing form born on the streets of America, you can practice pretty much anywhere.

Freestyle BMX v Racing BMX: what's the difference?

Freestyle BMX

Freestyle BMX bikes are designed to withstand all the tricks you might have up your sleeve. Whether it's soaring off the dirt jumps or the ramps around the skate park, these rigs will let you get as creative as you like. In order to pull off the kind of tricks to wow any passers-by, freestyle bikes are made slightly differently. The frame material is usually heavier than their racing counterparts to better survive the bumps and scrapes that can happen when you're getting to grips with a new trick. Freestyle BMX's must be made strong and durable, but still easy to manoeuvre.

Racing BMX

These are optimised for maximum speed, so are usually made from lighter materials. Race BMX frames can be found in aluminium, or the speedster's favourite, carbon. The geometry of the racing strain of BMX means that they are stable, firm but also nimble.

What sizes of BMX are there?

In terms of frame-size, there isn't too much differentiation to be found in the entertaining world of BMX. Nonetheless though, it is worth making sure that you've settled on is actually going to be a suitable fit. The smallest BMX frame should be around 15" and designed for children, with frames more than 20" made for adults who are maybe more than 5'10" tall.

More variation is found in both the wheel and rim sizes of BMX's. Bikes are typically fitted with 20" wheels as standard, but these can be adapted depending on what you want to do with your rig. For example, many racing BMX's may be equipped with wheels that are more than 22" or 24".

Freestyle BMX's tend to be found with 32mm rims. Larger options are available if they suit your personal preference. BMX rims can be either single, double or triple-walled, with the more layers of support improving the structure of your bike, but at the cost of adding more weight.

BMX riders may choose to fit their bike with wider tyres than is normal to suit their cravings for adrenaline. BMX bikes tend to usually have thicker tyres to soak up shocks when compared to sleek road bikes. The racers of the BMX community however might look for a wheel and tyre combination that's narrower than the standard stocky tyres in order to keep the weight of their ride down.

BMX gearing: how does it work?

Gearing on a BMX is slightly different to the gearing you'll find on road bikes or even MTB's. To start with, a BMX doesn't tend to have multiple gears, so you may need to figure out your gear ratio. The chainring and the sprocket have a direct role in your bike's gearing.

Both freestyle BMX riders and those who race BMX's will have different preferences in how they have the gearing on their bikes set up. A smaller chainring and sprocket combination will result in less effort being required when it comes to pedalling and will give the rider much more space when it comes to clearing obstacles, which is ideal for the freestyle rider and their variety of tricks. Racing BMX's however, will likely need a larger chainring with more teeth, which should generate a much higher top speed.

Braking with a BMX - what is a gyro?

While there a few different brake configurations for your BMX, a freestyle rider might be plump for a bike with a U-brake. The U-brake is a set-up found on many different types of BMX, including street, flatland and dirt jump bikes.

You may however find BMX bikes that are fitted with caliper brakes. If you already own, or have owned, a road bike then there's a chance you are already familiar with these. If your BMX is fitted with a rear brake and you want to perform stunts and tricks that such as a barwhip or a tailspin, then you may need to install something called a gyro.

A gyro, also known as a detangler, is a system for the rear brake which allows the handlebars to spin 360 degrees without the brake cable getting tangled up – you'll be able to see this as two cables that protrude from the front of the bike.